Saturday, 15 June 2013

Ironbridge Gorge Museums Master's Livery Weekend 2013 Friday 7th June to Sunday 9th June

The first bridge built of cast iron over the River Severn- showing the potential of the "new" material for all types of construction
The Masters of Livery Companies have been gathering together at Ironbridge in June for thirty years.  The tradition was initiated by the late Sir Peter Gadsden, Lord Mayor in 1979-80.   Having grown up in Shropshire Sir Peter undertook a visit to the county as part of his Mayoral Year including a visit to the Museum.  He was fascinated by the story of Ironbridge as the birthplace of the Indistrial Revolution.
He subsequently founded the London Committee of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Development Trust which aimed to fundraise and support the Museum through City and livery connections.  He became President of the Development Trust in 1983 and started the Livery Day that year as a one day visit to the Museums on a Saturday in June.  Word spread and this developed over the years as more Companies started to attend and the event expanded to become the full weekend of activities that it is today.
Ironbridge in 2013 is a key event in the year of all Master’s of Livery Companies and attendance this year was at a record number.   Connections between Ironbridge and the City of London date back much further than the 30 years that the Companies have been visiting.  Abraham Darby, the Quaker Ironmaster built the actual iconic Ironbridge itself and was given the Freedom of the City in 1775.
The Industrial Revolution took place in Britain due to the stable social and political conditions, the raw materials, merchantile power and available capital.  To this could be added the genius of invention and an abundance of skills nurtured by the Guilds and Livery Companies.
Since the institution of Livery Weekends, the Livery Companies have donated approximately £500,000 to Ironbridge in cash or in-kind donations, supporting many of the projects and education programmes.
Part of the working exhibits in Blists Hill Victorian Town
For the Masters attending this year it was a very full programme, kicking off with a Black Tie dinner at Coalbrookdale on the Friday evening after driving up directly from our Canterbury visit.  The Saturday was a full-on tour of the many separate museums, including the Jackfield Tile Museum, Blists Hill Victorian Town, the Ironbridge itself, the Old Furnace,  the Museum of Iron, and the Enginuity workshops and dare I say, playspace for adults.    There is a vast amount to see and to learn and plainly a whistle-stop tour cannot do justice to what Ironbridge offers the visitor.  At best it was a taster of the attraction of this venue which should really be on everyone’s holiday itinerary at some point in life.   What also struck me is that Ironbridge today is a very attractive area, lying as it does in a wooded valley offering glimpses of our industrial heritage.  It was not always like this – gone is the polluting smoke and smells and the ravages of industry on countryside.   The trip was also better for us in 2013 with three days of unbroken sunshine – this is also different to previous years when it has rained.
With the Consort on the Ironbridge itself
On the Saturday night we had the President’s Summer Ball in the Engine Shop at Coalbrookdale – another Black Tie affair with dancing afterwards.  The Lord Mayor Roger Gifford and the Lady Mayoress Clare Gifford were in attendance, along with Sheriff Nigel Pullman.  These events have been invaluable in enabling Masters and partners of different companies to get to know each other better.
On Sunday we returned again to Coalbrookdale to view the Darby Houses and the Costume Project and had the pleasure of seeing the Lady Mayoress try on a Victorian Dress – together with the requite bustle.  The weekend ended with a light lunch and refreshments before we all hit the road.
For my husband and I the weekend was not finished – we were off to a Cliff Richard “Still Rocking and Reeling”  Concert at Hatfield House on Sunday night on the way back to London.  My thought was that Sir Cliff is somewhat older than the majority of livery masters but showing a lot more energy than we had after a busy few days of non stop activity. And next week looks equally full!

City Ale Conner Christine Rigden explaining to Masters the technicalities of the role and testing the local brew

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